reproduced with kind permission from Brian Feinblum
While thumbing through a book that was printed in 1970 – a $1.25 mass market paperback – I came across a fold–out advertisement in the center of the book. It was printed on postcard stock. It was advertising membership for a book club. The book industry should return to those days when it both contained advertising in its books and when it promoted book clubs.
The ad lures you in, stating: “The Classics Club is quite unlike any other book club.
“The club does not offer best sellers that come and go – instead, it offers its members a chance to stay young through great books that never grow old. These books include Utopia by Thomas Morej the complete works of Shakespeare; Benjamin Franklin’sAutobiography; Omar Klayyam’s Rubaiyat;Walden by Thor Can; and other fresh, spontaneous, even outspoken works that stretch your mind and sweep away the mental cobwebs that hold back most men.”
They don’t write ads like that anymore!
Maybe they should.
Books, like anything else, need to be sold and positioned to the public in a way that makes them irresistible.
In case you were wondering, the club was offering an introductory fee of just a buck,"plus a few cents mailing charges,” and newcomers would get a trio of hard-bound books “in matched sand-colored buckram.” The books would contain the Five Great Dialogues of Plato, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Aristotle’s On Man in the Universe.” Future volumes would come at $3.89 -- plus shipping.
Back then the publisher looked to eliminate paying authors –n-fees to dead people without copyright protections. Additionally, the publisher didn’t need to pay an editor for finished works nor did it need to cut in a wholesaler or book store. The publisher went straight to the public selling proven, known and highly regarded books.
I don’t know how profitable the ads proved to be for the publisher’s book club but the concept seems sound. Books are the best forum for selling more books. You have a reader in hand, someone who buys books, and you can even narrow down the demographics of who will see the ad based on who likely is reading a specific genre.
Book publishers should also consider advertising other products, services, or publications. Granted, a book is not a magazine or a newspaper, but upon careful selection, I’m sure a publisher can find a select number of advertisements that it feels would support the consumer passions of its readers.
Whereas some media, such as traditional outlets – radio, TV, print – complain that they aren’t getting enough ad money digitally to support the content consumers download for free, why can’t book publishers secure revenue in an area that really hasn’t been mined in recent times?
What arguments lend legitimacy to a publisher’s refusal to finance itself on such ads?
“It’s beneath books to have ads.”
No, it’s not, especially if it means the ads make the difference between having books and not. Every content source has ads; books don’t need to hold out anymore. However, publishers can hold higher standards as to what they’ll advertise, how those ads are presented, and how many they will run in a book.
“It costs money to secure these ads.”
Of course it does, but they should net more than they spend. It may be hard to set rates not knowing how much readership a specific book will have, but that can be worked around. For instance, run the same ads in a number of books. Charge a flat fee based on initial print runs and then a bonus based on final sales figures over the first 6-12 months.
“Authors may object to the ads.”
Writers will understand that ads could keep the lights on. Cut them in on some of the ad revenue and get their buy-in on types of ads to be permitted vs. those an author may object to.
“Ads are permanent and can’t be recalled.”
Again, choose ads that you feel confident don’t pose a harm or risk to anyone. But if something happens where an advertisement is met publicly with disfavor or the product advertised falls under some type of criticism, publishers can be sure to not use them in reprints and remove them from digital editions immediately.
“Ads will make books no different than magazines.”
Magazines are not books. They are printed weekly, monthly, and quarterly and have an expiration date attached to their content. Books are more substantial and have a longer shelf-life. Magazines are based on having lots of short articles, many with photos. Books primarily use words to convey their message. Ads won’t diminish books nor change how people distinguish them from magazines.
Advertisements could net the book industry a billion or more dollars. It’s time the book industry opened its pages to this opportunity.